Procurement: One Lives, One Dies

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December 17, 2008: The U.S. Army has ordered another 39 UH-72A "Lakota" transport helicopters, bringing the total ordered to 123. All this began as a side effect of the cancellation of the Comanche helicopter in 2004. That happened because Comanche was seen as too expensive and complex for army needs. There followed the adoption of two commercial helicopters, to take up the slack. The 2.8 ton ARH-70 (a militarized Bell-407), was to replace the elderly OH-58D scout helicopter, while the 3.6 ton UH-72A (a militarized EC145) would supplement the UH-60 for transportation and other jobs, and replace many of the UH-1s now being phased out of reserve units.

In both cases, much was made of how quickly these two birds could be obtained, because both were "off-the-shelf", and would be using existing military equipment. The adaptation and integration went ahead without a hitch on the UH-72A, which costs about $6 million each (for a buy of 322 helicopters). The UH-72A already had many satisfied civilian users, including many police organizations.

Last year, the first six UH-72 were delivered to equip the Air Ambulance Detachment at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California. That's in the desert, so the UH-72As got a workout in hot and high conditions, and use by combat veterans. Civilian users had not exposed the EC145 to such conditions, so it was not shocking to discover that more air conditioning was needed. Both the crew compartment (and all those electronics), and the passenger compartment got hot and stuffy after a few hours in desert Summer conditions. Also, as expected, carrying capacity in hot and high conditions was a bit less than expected. Medical personnel also found that, while you could treat two badly injured stretcher patients on paper, in practice it was too crowded. The passenger compartment could be reconfigured a bit to ease up on this problem. The specification did not call for there to be space for two critically injured patients, but the army medics pointed out that this was often what had to be done. That's because, if you have two critically wounded troops, and the helicopter can carry them, the medics will take two. With critically wounded soldiers, every minute counts.

The UH-72A met all specifications, but the specs themselves don't always address every eventuality. That's normal, and the UH72A is, so far, considered a success. The ARH-70 was cancelled earlier this year, because the manufacturer was not able to successfully make the modifications necessary to convert an off-the-shelf helicopter to a military one.

 


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